Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has come back in a big way, with shares now trading in the ballpark of $110. That's all-time high territory and equivalent to $770 in pre-split prices. Still, Apple may have more room to run, as analysts have become bullish on the Mac maker once again.
The latest sign of Street confidence comes from UBS, where analysts Steve Milunovich and Peter Christiansen have just reiterated a "buy" rating on Apple while tacking on an additional $10 to their price target, bringing it to $125.
Apple is "like a subscription business"
The reason for the bullishness is a recent survey of consumers in the U.S., U.K., and mainland China that found iPhone 6 demand as robust as ever. The sample size was 1,000 respondents, of which 40% expressed an intention to purchase an iPhone 6 within the next 12 months. Of that total, half are looking for the pricey iPhone 6 Plus, implying a favorable demand mix for Apple.
Within China, easily one of Apple's most important markets, 29% of respondents are in the market for an iPhone 6. That includes a large proportion of customers who are currently using Samsung devices, which suggests Apple is indeed prepared to grab share from its South Korean rival.
Apple's high levels of customer loyalty are common knowledge, creating reliable recurring revenue from hardware sales. In this case, UBS estimates the company's retention rate at 84%, which is double that of rivals like Samsung or Xiaomi. The analysts even offer another way to think of Apple's business, suggesting that its market cap could potentially double if only "Apple were valued more like a subscription business with low churn."
At first, the notion of customer churn might sound misplaced in the context of a hardware business, but the point is that Apple customers are remarkably loyal, and the Mac maker can count on the majority of them upgrading their devices every one or two years.
It used to account for iPhones using a subscription model
Interestingly enough, Apple actually used to account for iPhone sales using a subscription method. The primary reason was because Apple delivers free software updates, and the associated value of these updates isn't "earned" until delivery. Most other smartphone vendors at the time didn't deliver as many software updates after the initial purchase, making the accounting rules less relevant to them.
At the time, Apple was required to defer iPhone revenue over two years on a straight-line basis. This was one of the only periods in recent memory when Apple reported its results on a non-GAAP basis.
Apple lobbied aggressively with the Financial Accounting Standards Board, or FASB, to get the rules changed to better align with the underlying economics of its actual business. The FASB amended the accounting rules in 2009. It still defers revenue related to software updates, but this is in the ballpark of $20 per unit.
Maybe Apple should start reporting data around renewal and upgrade rates to command even respect from investors.
Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.